A Woman Defined

Art & Culture by Mahvash Mossaed

A Conversation with Photographer Yvonne Venegas

September 16, 2014

Yvonne Venegas | San Pedro Garza Garcia | Shoshana Wayne Gallery | September 6 – October 25, 2014 | http://www.shoshanawayne.com/


I had the opportunity for a Q&A with artist Yvonne Venegas, whose photographs, entitled “San Pedro Garza Garcia,” are currently on exhibit at the Shoshana Wayne Gallery.


How did you first get into photography?

My father is a wedding photographer with a business in Tijuana, and he gave me a camera when I started high school. At first it was just for fun. I found photography to be an easy extension for me as I found in it another way to relate to people, which I enjoyed. At seventeen, I took portraits of my twin sister for the first time. That was, for me, a revelation, as I saw something that, in that moment, I thought I could keep doing for a long time. After that, I began to take photography classes at a community college in San Diego, and that was how my studies in photography began. It was 1988.

How has your work evolved since you first got started?

I kept working with portraiture for many years and studied in various places, including the International Center of photography in New York, which was the first serious photo school I ever attended. I assisted many photographers and soon realized that I wanted to focus only on my personal work. I then did an MFA in Visual Arts at the University of California, San Diego, and that experience gave me the tools to continue producing the projects that I have been doing since. My work now is a bit more complex than in the beginning. Now my effort lies in producing complex documents that will hold up in time, and that gives the spectator the possibility to interpret what s/he sees. I am interested in Mexican societies, upper and middle, and making visual interpretations of the various constructions.

Who are the photographers who have influenced you? And the artists?

Over the years, so many! Dana Lixenberg, Rineke Dijsktra, Martin Parr, Tina Barney, Diane Arbus, Ruben Ortiz Torres, Jennifer Pastor, Paul Pfeiffer.

How do you choose your subjects to photograph?

It is an intuitive process, and usually, it has to do with curiosity. I am attracted to subjects that carry a certain level of mystery, and in my work, I try never to reveal it directly — that is, I respect it.

What makes the most successful shoot for you?

It varies. I am still not sure what the formula is, but usually, if I arrive to a shoot not knowing what to expect, I leave with the best feeling. I like to work in a level of the experience. I am living the experience of being with certain people, talking, drinking, and participating, and also photographing. I must feel I know the people I am with in some way in order to produce work that I like.

What makes for the most interesting shoots?

People that are relaxed about how they will be portrayed.

What equipment are you currently using?

A Mamiya 7 with Kodak Portra 400 film.

When you photograph individual subjects, how much time do you use to get to know them? 

I go straight to the pictures. If there is time, I stay longer and sometimes keep in touch afterwards for a possible second shoot. Many times, I make friends that I continue to see over the years.

How much planning do you do for each shoot and how much happens naturally?

The planning lies in setting up a meeting time and place. The rest is usually natural. Lately, I have been doing more portraits, which requires a bit more direction. I think there is something great about arriving at a place, like San Pedro Garza Garcia, and simply finding out who is available and willing to be photographed. I also need to plan things when I want to get particular people that I am interested in including in my project, and I think that this is the chapter that I am beginning now in my work.

Can you talk about some technical aspect of your work and photography in general?

When I began to take pictures, I was very much into making beautiful pictures. I studied composition, and I was very good at it. Over the years, I have continued to be interested in beauty, but it is no longer the mainstream view of beauty that I used to enjoy. Now I see beauty in things that can be of balance and imperfect, and this interest has extended onto how I solve images formally. I have been told by photographers that I admire very much that my flash technique is poor. Yet when I hear that word, I wonder, poor according to what standard? I really like how the flash looks, and I have been taking flash pictures for at least fifteen years! So I can say I am not the most spectacular technical person. I have stayed with the same camera and film for a very long time, and I am never the first one to try new gadgets. But formally, I think that my work makes sense with my discourse, both in composition and technique. I tend to print my own work, and that is crucial for me. Overall, I think that to use intuition is more important to me than using the latest of the most perfect technique.

What would you be doing if you were not a photographer?

I think I would be a sociologist or a writer.

Is the process of creating your photographs emotional for you?

Yes. I go through all kinds of feelings, from delight to confusion or from complete confidence to feeling absolutely vulnerable. I think all of these feelings are important as I am trying to create truly authentic documents, and all of those feeling make me think that I am headed in the right direction.

What projects have you planned in future?

I want to try focusing a complete project on masculinity. I am interested in power and fraternity. I have been looking at an all boys school in Mexico called Cumbres that is managed by an order of the Catholic Church called Legionarios de Cristo. Also, I want to start using video as part of the work that I am doing.

What is your present state of mind? What would be next for you if the sky were the limit?

I feel very positive and focused. I am very happy with the work in this show as I feel it brings together a lot of the things that I have been looking at in my past projects, and I think it has the possibility of having many more layers than I have ever tried. I want to publish the book of my past project called “Gestus,” and in a couple of years, the “San Pedro Garza Garcia.” I want to continue producing this kind of work and finding easier ways to finance them as well as to finance my family’s lifestyle. I want to travel to Japan to study bookmaking. If the sky were the limit, I want the work to be in the best collections around the world and to find its place in contemporary art.



San Pedro Garza Garcia
September 06-October 25, 2014

Named after the municipality in Nuevo León, part of the Monterrey Metropolitan area in Mexico, Venegas’ San Pedro Garza Garcia focuses on a select group of residents who enjoy the trappings of an upper class life.  That San Pedro Garza Garcia with a population of 150,000 has the highest income per capita in all of Latin America is not a coincidence for Venegas who has long captured the distinct demarcations of Mexico’s social class differences through the lens of her camera.  In San Pedro the social structure is more complicated than the rest of Mexico with layers of hierarchy operating within an already hierarchical system.  The result is a unique mircocosm where appearances are cherished.

Over the years, Venegas has a developed a specific visual language through her photographs which thrive on moments of fleeting imperfection.  She captures her subjects in flux, scenes that reveal artifice, and various states of becoming.  Venegas balances beauty and composition with ideas of the absurd.  She finds substance beneath layers of  pretense and turns a critical gaze toward the superficial.  It should be noted that Venegas does not focus on the unsavoriness of her subjects rather she unconvers moments of tangible realness and underscores the human condition.

True to her overall project of blurring the lines between reality and fiction, Venegas discovered that one of Mexico’s most popular media publications, El Norte, created a socials page geared specifically toward its San Pedro Garza Garcia subscribers.  Since 1974, this column has been the primary outlet for the most beloved citizens of San Pedro to engage each other as well as a public they will never meet.

With this body of  work Venegas explores ideas of performativity, her camera offering the untouchable residents of San Pedra Garza Garcia an opportunity to perform for a public outside of the city’s well guarded borders.  The notion of an inside versus an outside world is important to Venegas for many reasons in light of Mexico’s ongoing predicament with drug cartels and the country’s quest for power and progress.  In 2008, at the height of Mexico’s drug violence and social instability, San Pedro Garza Garcia was one of the few cities that was able to protect itself from outside crime.  Balancing portraits, clean landscapes, architecture, lesiure activities, ceromonies, and celebrations Venegas penetrates the borders surrounding San Pedro Garza Garcia and its residents.

Yvonne Venegas has had over 16 solo exhibitions world wide.  Her work can be found in numerous private and public collections and she has exhibited in museums such as Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Monterrey; Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil, Mexico City; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City; Museum des Beaux Arts in France, and Bozar Museum in Brussels.  Yvonne Venegas lives and works in Mexico City.

For more information about the artist, visit her website at http://www.yvonnevenegas.com.

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